Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

Climate change can result in violent conflicts – peacebuilding NGO

Friday, December 4th, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 4th December 2009

One of the effects of climate change is a heightened risk of violent conflict, especially involving poor, badly governed countries with a recent history of armed conflict, the independent peacebuilding organisation International Alert says in a new report. This risk adds to their burdens and makes it harder for them to adapt to climate change. Climate change negotiations focus on the availability and control of finance, rather on the complexities of climate adaptation and the need to harmonise adaptation initiatives with development.

As climate change unfolds, one of its effects is a heightened risk of violent conflict, says the independent peacebuilding organisation International Alert in a new report, ‘Climate change, conflict and fragility – Understanding the linkages, shaping effective responses’.

This risk is at its sharpest in poor, badly governed countries, many of which have a recent history of armed conflict. This both adds to the burdens faced by deprived and vulnerable communities and makes it harder to reduce their vulnerability by adapting to climate change.

According to the organisation, which has worked for over 20 years in areas such as Africa, South Asia, the South Caucasus, Latin America, Lebanon and the Philippines to lay the foundations for lasting peace and security in communities affected by violent conflict, policy discussions about the consequences of climate change are beginning to acknowledge the conflict and security implications.

“However,” International Alert says, “these concerns are not being properly taken on within the complex negotiations for a new international agreement on reducing global warming and responding to climate change. In the negotiating context, the discussion focuses on how much money should be available for it and how that money will be controlled. This discussion pays scant attention to the complexities of adaptation, the need to harmonise it with development, or the dangers of it going astray in fragile and conflict-affected states and thereby failing to reduce vulnerability to climate change.”

Shaping adaptation policies means going beyond the most immediate natural and social effects of climate change and looking to the context in which its impact will be felt, the report states. This is because it is the interaction between the natural consequences and the social and political realities in which people live that will determine whether they can adapt successfully to climate change.

“Doing this means addressing the realities of the system of power in fragile and conflict-affected societies, a structure of power that often systematically excludes the voices of all but a privileged few,” International Alert says. “Policies for adapting to the effects of climate change have to respond to these realities or they will not work. At the same time, the field of development itself will have to adapt in order to face the challenge of climate change. Neither development, adaptation nor peacebuilding can be regarded as a bolt-on to either one of the other two. The problems are interlinked and the policy responses must be integrated.”

In establishing the overall goal of international policy on adaptation as helping people in developing countries adapt successfully to climate change even where there is state fragility or conflict risk, the report makes eight specific policy recommendations:

  1. Adaptation to climate change needs to be conflict-sensitive – responding to the needs of the people, involving them in consultation, taking account of power distribution and social order, and avoiding pitting groups against each other.
  2. Peacebuilding needs to be climate-proof, ensuring that its progress is not disrupted by the effects of climate change that could and should be anticipated.
  3. Shifts towards a low-carbon economy must be supportive of development and peace – unlike what happened with the rapid move to biofuels.
  4. Steps must be taken to strengthen poor countries’ social capacity to understand and manage climate and conflict risks.
  5. Greater efforts are needed to plan for and cope peacefully with climate-related migration.
  6. Institutions responsible for climate change adaptation need to be structured and staffed in a way that reflects the specific challenges of the climate-conflict inter-linkages. For this to be possible, institutions must restructure in such a way as to maximise the participation of ordinary people and build accountable and transparent public institutions.
  7. Development policy-making and strategic planning in the future, at both international and national levels, need to integrate with peaceful climate adaptation planning. Compartmentalisation between these areas is no longer viable.
  8. A large-scale systematic study of the likely costs of adaptation is required, including the social and political dimensions along with economic sectors that have so far been left out of most estimates.

The consequences of climate change, the incidence of violent conflict and the corrosive effects of state fragility are all major problems, and taking them on together is to take aim at a very difficult target, International Alert says.

“But they must be taken on together because these problems are not isolated from each other,” the organisation says. “At the same time, the fact that they are linked problems helps identify linked solutions that benefit from synergies and that have an impact on several targets at once.”

International Alert says the appropriate overarching goal of international policy on adaptation is to help people in developing countries adapt successfully to climate change even where there is state fragility or conflict risk – which it sums up in the policy goal ‘building resilience’ with the backing of five policy objectives that together constitute a coherent agenda:

  1. Adaptation to climate change needs to be conflict-sensitive. In fragile and conflict-affected contexts, all interventions must respond to the needs of the people, involve them in consultation, take account of power distribution and social order, and avoid pitting groups against each other.
  2. Peacebuilding needs to be climate-proof. For example, post-conflict reconstruction and the reintegration of ex-combatants into their villages must take account of the long-term viability of the land and natural resources available for lives and jobs.
  3. Shifts towards a low-carbon economy must be supportive of development and peace. For example, there must be no repeat of the rapid move to biofuels, which not only reduced food availability, but also threatened to drive millions of people off the land.
  4. Steps must be taken to strengthen poor countries’ social capacity to understand and manage climate and conflict risks.
  5. Greater efforts are needed to plan for and cope peacefully with climate-related migration.

International Alert says these tasks are feasible – “demanding, certainly, but distinctly achievable.”

Two fundamental shifts are required: in the way institutions are organised, and in the way the climate-conflict inter-linkages are addressed.

  1. Institutions responsible for climate change adaptation – whether under the architecture of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), international financial institutions, development agencies or peacebuilding organisations – “need to ensure that their internal systems and structures promote adaptation even where there is state fragility or conflict risk. In these complex and delicate situations, adaptation must do no harm, and ideally help the goal of peace along its way. For this to be possible, institutions must restructure in such a way as to maximise the participation of ordinary people and build accountable and transparent public institutions.”
  2. Strategies must adapt to meet the combined challenge of climate change, conflict risk and state fragility. It is wrong to imply that henceforth there will be old-style development with adaptation on top. It may be that there will be a continuum from development activities that are not affected by climate change to development activities whose entire purpose is adaptation, but overall policy and strategy will present a new form of development. That means development assistance will need to adapt too.

According to the report, a crucial step towards these objectives and the appropriate modes of implementation is a large-scale systematic study of adaptation costs.

Current estimates of the costs vary widely and are reportedly so short of the mark that they will not very helpful to planners, International Alert says.

It adds that these estimates “ignore costs of climate change impacts against which adaptation – as presently conceived – cannot protect people, such as those that stem from elite resource capture and discriminatory regulations on land rights. A comprehensive and holistic assessment and costing of adaptation is a priority if we are to have any hope that climate change adaptation can reduce the risk of conflict and fragility.”

Whether the new form of development is (or can be permitted to be) more expensive than the outlay to which donors are already committed has yet to be calculated, the organisation says.

“But it seems likely that much and probably most expenditure on adaptation will simply be indistinguishable from expenditure on development because the activities will be fused,” it adds. “It is in the context of this challenging agenda and these practical considerations that the next steps on an uncertain road need to be designed.”

The report, prepared by International Alert and the Initiative for Peacebuilding – Early Warning (IfP-EW), is based on a research paper that was originally commissioned by the UK Department for International Development.

Towards a nuclear-weapons-free zone for the North Pole

Monday, August 10th, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 10th August 2009

For 50 years, the South Pole has been free of nuclear weapons. Can this be done for the North Pole as well?

Fifty years ago, 19 months of discussions and negotiations resulted in an international treaty that turned the Antarctic into a region without weapons.

According to the Antarctic Treaty’s article 1, the South Pole is to be used for peaceful purposes only. Military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited, but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose.

Article 5 prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes.

This treaty has since been followed by other treaties that have set up nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) in Latin America, the South Pacific, South-East Asia and Central Asia. Mongolia declared itself a NWFZ in 1992, and Africa is only one ratification away from making another continent entirely nuclear weapon free.

All these NWFZs were established in regions where nuclear weapons were absent.

At the North Pole, however, the Soviet Union and its successors in the Russian Federation and the USA have have watched each other closely for political reasons since the end of World War II. They have built up nuclear arsenals and their nuclear-powered warships and submarines have patrolled the Arctic as part of their defences.

Recent reports about two Russian submarines patrolling the waters outside USA have created concern that Russia is upscaling its presence in foreign waters, but Russian Navy officials claim that Russian submarines never stopped patrolling the world’s oceans, reported BarentsObserver.com.

Russian submarines never stopped patrolling the world’s oceans, but their operations are of a secret character and never commented on by Russian Navy officials,” a high-ranking representative from the Russian Navy Headquarters told RIA Novosti in a comment on the report in New York Times. “Even in the hard 1990s Russian submarines sailed the oceans on combat alert duty,” the source said.

The American newspaper referred earlier this week to a source in the Pentagon who said that a pair of nuclear-powered Russian attack submarines had been patrolling off the eastern seaboard of the United States and called it “a rare mission that has raised concerns inside the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about a more assertive stance by the Russian military”.

The two submarines were reported to be of the Akula-class attack submarines. Both the Russian Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet have several subs of this class.

Citing a government press release, BarentsObserver.com also reported that Russia will next year increase its spending on new military equipment and upgrades with 1.2% to a total of 470 billion roubles (DKK 76 billion), despite the current economic crisis and major cuts in public spending.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov confirmed that the government in 2010 intends to spend 470 billion roubles on new and upgrades equipment for its armed forces.

Being concrete on the most important acquisitions, Ivanov mentioned the development of the country’s strategic missile complexes, modern ships and submarines, as well as aircraft types Su-27 CM, Su-30 MK-2, Su-35 and Su-34. Russia also intends to invest in the Iskander-M missile complex and the X-102 cruiser missiles for its air force.

However, the deputy Prime Minister did not mention the Borei-class submarines and the Bulava missile complex, although experts say that up to 40% of the military spending currently is invested in these.

Peace activists have wanted to stop the deployment of nuclear weapons in the Arctic region for many years.

Perhaps a combination of the negative effects of global warming, the May 2010 conference reviewing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (also called the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT or NNPT) and the recent agreement between the USA and Russia to discuss further cuts in their nuclear weapons arsenals will be steps on the path towards a nuclear-weapons-free zone around the North Pole.

The rapid shrinking of the Arctic’s polar ice will not only produce rising ocean levels in the region and globally, but will also open Arctic waters to new shipping lanes and exploration of the Arctic seabed previously prevented by an impenetrable ice cap. There is already evidence that increasing commercial and exploratory navigation is producing additional military deployment. This may be connected with countries wishing to protect their territorial claims to the Arctic – which is believed to be rich in natural resources and where as much as 25% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves may be found.

A seminar arranged by the Danish Institute for International Studies today discussed a number of aspects of creating a nuclear-weapons-free zone around the North Pole. Would a regional NWFZ including those Arctic nations that are already free from nuclear weapons (Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) be a logical first step? What steps can we take to demilitarize and protect the Arctic from accidental or intentional use of nuclear weapons?

I talked about the prospects for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Arctic to professor Michael Hamel-Green, executive dean at the faculty of arts, education and human development at Victoria University in Australia; Adele Buckley, a member of the executive committee of the Pugwash Council in Canada, which is affiliated to the Pugwash Conferences on science and world affairs; and Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, an independent research, advocacy, and consulting group in Canada that provides research, analysis and commentary on public policy issues.

The Government of Canada has made the Arctic a priority and has developed an Integrated Northern Strategy,” an advisor to Canadian Ambassador Peter Lundy said. “The strategy rests on four pillars: protecting our environmental heritage, promoting economic and social development, exercising our sovereignty, and improving and devolving governance. Our foreign policy delivers on the international dimension of each of the four elements in this strategy, thereby affirming our leadership, stewardship and ownership in the region.”

According to the Government of Canada’s Arctic region website, Canada has a policy objective of non-proliferation, reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons, which it pursues “persistently and energetically, consistent with our membership in NATO and NORAD and in a manner sensitive to the broader international security context.”

The policy is rooted in the three “pillars” of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, disarmament of nuclear weapons stockpiles and the right of all NPT states to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in accordance with non-proliferation obligations.

In addition, Canadian policy also recognizes the utility of counter-proliferation initiatives to address non-state actors and states that attempt to circumvent the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Our responsibility is to strengthen Canada’s national security by formulating, advocating and negotiating effective nuclear non-proliferation, arms control, and disarmament policies, strategies and agreements in collaboration with other divisions within the Nuclear and Chemical Disarmament Implementation Agency (DFAIT) and with other government departments and agencies,” the government website states.

Click here to see the interview with Michael Hamel-Green.

Click here to see the interview with Adele Buckley and Steven Staples.

Click here to go to the website of the Danish Institute for International Studies.

Click here to go to the Pugwash website.

Click here to go to the Rideau Institute’s website.

Click here to go to Canada’s Arctic region website.

Click here to go to Canada’s Northern Strategy website.